|Sobotka, Hunwick pumped to be back||10.14.08 at 11:24 am ET|
Bruins Tuesday afternoon after a trade (Andrew Alberts) and an injury (Chuck Kobasew) cleared up a pair of spots on the active roster.
Sobotka was a monster down in Providence in his two games for the P-Bruins (four points and his first professional dropping of the gloves) and Hunwick said somebody told him it was like “watching a man among boys” while Sobotka was tearing up the ice at the AHL level. Hunwick is the potential quick-skating, puck-moving defenseman that is vital in this day and age of the NHL, and should be competing with veteran Shane Hnidy for minutes. Sobotka is a “gritty, in-your-face player” who “plays like he’s six foot plus” no matter size he really is according to head coach Claude Julien. The coach said that both players can expect to see ice time in the near future, if not immediately. The long on-ice practice seemed to indicated that at least one (Sobotka) — if not both — will be active Wednesday night against the first grudge match of the season at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
“When you look at Matt Hunwick everybody notices that he’s got good mobility and he’s a great skater. He’s gotten stronger over the year since the beginning of last year and his decisions on the ice have to be a little quicker — let’s put it way – in order for him to improve the way that we want him to,” said Julien after Tuesday’s practice. “He’s still doing a good job at it, and when you look at players improving, it’s something that if he can get better at it he’s going to be a really good defenseman in the this league.
“With Vlad we talked about the numbers game and he had to go down there for a while when we had to cut our roster down, but he’s a gritty player,” added Julien. “He’s in your face. No matter what size he is, he plays six-foot plus every single night. He works hard, plays gritty and that’s part of our team identity. I haven’t made my final decision for tomorrow [night's line-up], but we didn’t bring them up here to put them on the shelf. If it’s not tomorrow then it’s some point [soon].”
Also for all those wondering, Sobotka did drive his nice, new BMW 3 Series up to Boston after learning of his call-up. The 21-year-old Czech was summarily excited to be back up with the B’s big club, and he would have likely never left the club if not for the numbers/salary cap tightness that was a part of the equation.
“They send me down and they told me I’d be back after a short period. I’m going to play NHL and try to stay here for whole season. I had maybe more ice time in Providence,” said Sobotka, who scored a goal and six assists in 48 games last year. ”I play PP, PK and it’s good for now that it’s changed and I’ll be on fourth line and maybe have less ice time. I’ll just play one game at a time up here.”
Hunwick had just finished eating lunch with his parents at the Cheesecake Factory and was book-shopping at a bookstore on Newbury Street when he heard the good news about getting called back up to Boston on Monday. The 23-year-old blueliner has 12 career NHL games under his belt — and one lonely assist – so he bolted quickly from the bookstore without buying the latest John Grisham novel and didn’t waste any time getting his gear ready to bring back to Boston.
“It’s an opportunity to prove I can play at this level and also help the team win,” said Hunwick. “I was playing 20 minutes a night in Providence and killing penalties and getting power play team. I got some key minutes in those areas in case I’m ever needed on those units up here. I had my phone off and it was kind of a day off so I could get away from things. But then I turned it on and had a few text messages from friends that gave me a clue this was happening, so here I am today.”
|Haggs’ NHL 2008-09 Preview||10.09.08 at 5:37 pm ET|
“The feeling [the team] got after Game 6 I want them to remember, and the feeling they had after Game 7 they should remember too. They should have gained some experience from that playoff series, and hopefully we can take it to the next level this year. We want to continue to improve. We have some good young talent this year.”
These are the encouraging words of a highly competitive man with a vested interest in the return of the Big Bad Bruins: Bruins Vice President and link to Boston’s Black and Golden past, Cam Neely. Neely was talking about this year’s edition of the Boston Skating Club with Glen Ordway, Brian Daubach and Lou Merloni on the Big Show Thursday afternoon.
Neely certainly sounded optimistic about the team’s chances of building on a first round playoff loss that included the best hockey game ever played (Game 6) at the TD Banknorth Garden since its inception.
Neely’s words couldn’t be more cogent or prophetic when it comes to this year’s team. The Bruins showed last season that they could scrape, claw, bleed and punch their way to the playoffs with defensive intensity, opportunistic scoring when an opponent made a mistake, athletic goaltending and the physical intimidation that once seemed a birthright along with a Bruins jersey. The B’s weren’t as talented or explosive as teams like the Sabres, Hurricanes or Lightning, yet they were still standing on their skates after those other teams had been eliminated from consideration for Lord Stanley’s Annual Cup tournament.
The team must embrace and repeat the work ethic and snarl that made them playoff quality last season, but also need to raise their scoring output and skill level. Both objectives should be helped immensely by the return of Patrice Bergeron to the lineup. Bergie is easily the best two-way hockey player on the Bruins and was ascending into one of the best in the NHL last year at 22 years old when a concussion knocked him out of commission just 10 games into the year.
Bergeron’s return along with the maturation of skilled skaters like Phil Kessel, David Krejci, Blake Wheeler, Vladimir Sobotka and Milan Lucic should help a boost team that finished second from the bottom in scoring (the Islanders actually scored 18 fewer goals than the B’s last season) among Eastern Conference
teams last season. Kessel will be a huge key if he can play like he did following his benching in the playoffs. Immediate chemistry between Marc Savard and Michael Ryder would also go a long way toward giving Boston the scoring punch they were missing with the clearly calcified Glen Murray last season.
The biggest key, though, is for the players to remain hungry for respect around the NHL and bent on success in the dormant hockey city of Boston. The trick is to accomplish this without losing sight of what them such a formidable foe in the first place. If you go back and watch Game 6 of last season’s matchup with the Canadiens (I can’t imagine there’s a serious Bruins fan out there who still doesn’t have the game on DVR), that is all the proof you need that people will come — and watch — if there is quality hockey on the frozen sheet.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Bruins are able to add another defenseman at some point in the season, as the hockey buzz is that Florida Panthers D-man Jay Boumeester is going to be up-for-sale when the playoff sun sets early in Sunrise, Fla. He would be the perfect puck-moving compliment to Zdeno Chara, but for now the Bruins will have to make due with one bruising #1 blueliner on their roster along with a gritty group of 3′s and 4′s.
There’ll be plenty of time this season to pick apart the B’s, however, so here’s Haggs’ predictions across the NHL for the 2008-09 season.
Atlantic Division: This is probably still the strongest division in the Eastern Conference and I could easily see four playoffs teams coming here. A full season of Malkin and Crosby will be something, but the injuries to Whitney and Gonchar really hurt their blueline bottom line. Bold denotes playoff-bound. 1) Penguins 2) Flyers 3) Rangers 4) Devils 5) Islanders.
Northeast Division: The Canadiens are still very good and could again end the regular season as the Eastern Conference #1 seed. It all depends on Carey Price. The Sens are on their way down and the Maple Leafs will bottom out this year. 1) Canadiens 2) Bruins 3) Sabres 4) Senators 5) Maple Leafs.
Southeast Conference: Washington is clearly the class of this division and ready to take another step up, but watch out for the Lightning and their mullet-maned coach. The Panthers are another member of the Rock Bottom Club. 1) Capitals 2) Lightning 3) Hurricanes 4) Thrashers 5) Panthers.
Central Division: The Red Wings got richer with Marian Hossa (I must say that I actually kind of applaud his willingness to take a one-year deal to win a title) and will have only the baby-faced Blackhawks as competition. 1) Red Wings 2) Blackhawks 3) Blue Jackets 4) Blues 5) Predators.
Northwest Division: 10 points separated the top from the bottom in this division last year, and that could very happen again this season. No team stands out, but all could win a hockey game on any given night. This division could change radically if the Canucks ever find a way to score some goals for Roberto Luongo 1) Wild 2) Flames3) Oilers 4) Avalanche 5) Canucks.
Pacific Division: The most talent-heavy division in the Western Conference and there could be a new sheriff in the form of the Dallas Stars. It all depends on which hot Hollywood starlet Sean Avery goes after next. Could Robin from How I Met Your Mother fame be next? 1) Stars 2) Sharks 3) Ducks 4) Coyotes 5) Kings.
Eastern Conference Finals: Penguins against the Canadiens. Penguins advance in seven games.
Western Conference Finals: Red Wings against the Stars. Stars advance in an epic seven games series.
|Ready to drop the puck!||10.09.08 at 5:38 am ET|